Saturday, February 14, 2009

Epées & Sorcellerie

The first French edition of Dungeons & Dragons was a translation of the Moldvay rules, which I own, having acquired it when I began studying the language in 1983. I had mentioned to my father that there was a French translation available and wished I could find a copy. So, being the practical kind of guy he is, he just called directory assistance for Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and was connected to TSR's offices to ask about it. In fairly short order, he then handed me the telephone and I was talking to Francois Marcela-Froideval, who worked as one of Gary Gygax's assistants, and was instrumental in promoting roleplaying games in France during the early 80s. I chatted with M. Froideval for a short time, quite awed to have spoken with someone who worked at TSR.

Before he'd handed me the phone, my father had already placed an order for a copy of the French boxed set from the Dungeon Hobby Shop, which arrived a few days later. I absolutely loved it, both because of how it helped my French reading comprehension, but also because it had art I'd never seen before, illustrated by the usual TSR artists. I remember being particularly impressed by the look of module B1, Le Château Fort aux Confins du Pays, which sported a bright blue cover. A couple of days later, a second package from the Dungeon Hobby Shop arrived, contaning another copy of the Donjons & Dragons boxed set. I was puzzled, since my father only ordered a single copy. I noticed that, unlike the other box, this second one wasn't shrink-wrapped. I opened it up, found a note from M. Froideval about enjoying our conversation and discovered that the rulebook and module had both been autographed by Gary Gygax. Needless to say, I nearly swooned and that second boxed set remains one of my most prized gaming possessions.

This ancedote is a prelude to mentioning that Epées & Sorcellerie, a French language retro-clone of OD&D by Nicolas "Snorri" Dessaux, has just been released by Brave Halfling Publishing. This is quite a remarkable thing, since OD&D was never released in French. I've already downloaded a copy of the free PDF, which is available here, but I intend to acquire the print edition shortly. I will certainly be writing a review of it sometime soon as well -- my first non-English product! Based on what I have read so far, I am very impressed. Epées & Sorcellerie is very clearly written and organized, as well as nicely laid out. I particularly like the use of 16th century woodcuts to illustrate the book. Of course, I expected nothing less than such brilliance from Nicolas Dessaux, who is very active on the Original D&D Discussion boards and is brimming with good ideas.

If you love old school games and can read French, go and grab yourself a copy now. If you don't know French, maybe now is the time to learn.


  1. N'ayant jamais été vraiment exposé à la version originale de OD&D (autre qu'une lecture diagonale d'un PDF obtenu de facon douteuse) ca pourrait être hautement divertissant d'explorer ce retro-clone.

    Merci pour l'info!

  2. That's a great story, James. Around 1983 I (a 13 year old) called Judges Guild and talked with a very nice guy who took the time to thoroughly explain to me how the monsters were detailed in the Field Guide to Encounters.

    Looking back, it was such a kind thing for this man to be so patient and generous with a middle-school kid on the phone. I wonder if the person I talked to had a name that would be recognized.

  3. "I opened it up, found a note from M. Froideval about enjoying our conversation and discovered that the rulebook and module had both been autographed by Gary Gygax."

    Stories like that never go out of style.

  4. Kudos to Snorri! If your reading this: Keep up the good work!

  5. It's a great story James!

    I myself learned english first from computer adventure games, then from D&D books... :-)

  6. I follow day by day Grognardia, so I was amazingly surprised and happy to see appear Epées & Sorcellerie cover. Reading the text, I enjoyed the story as well, for some reasons I want to explain.

    I discovered rpg’s in 1984, by a school friend, and my dad gifted me the Red box for my birthday, the same red box with “Le chateau forts aux confins du pays” James speaks about. It was the first rpg (“jeu de rôle”) to be translated in French, and most widely available as it was distributed by a well-know bookseller.

    A few month later, I started to study English at school and discovered the only rpg shop in my town. I was still a kid and was very impressed by all these older guys playing games such as “Advanced D&D”, “Man, Myth & Magic”, “Chivalry& Sorcery”, “Traveller”, and the first French games, likes “Légendes celtiques”.

    Most games and modules were still in english and, despite the fact I was just starting to learn it, I bought the “Expert set”. I struggled a lot and probably misunderstood a lot of details, but was very impressed by its art and style. So, my first English teacher was, in some way, Franck Mentzer. Being able to read English and understand uncommon words like shield or sword was a common feature of French role-players during these years.

    As all role-players, I was a monthly reader of “Casus belli”, the main French rpg review, now disappeared but still a legend among us [giving its name to the main French rpg forum]. It was created by one of the earlier introducers of rpg in France, François Marvella-Froideval. A few years later, he published the first volume of a long serial of comics “Chroniques de la lune noire” (Drak moon chronicles), which was no less than the story of his own D&D character. All was there: intelligent swords, psionics, paladins, rangers, ogres, succubus, dragons… with very impressive draws.

    The success it encountered made it known in a far much wider public than role-players. The last volume was published a few times ago and ends with an “ultimate trial”, which I can’t understand else than a reference to the first French RPG, “L’ultime epreuve” (Ultimate trial), which was a mix of D&D and Runequest. I was very impressed by the “Chroniques de la lune noire” and François Marvella-Froideval, the only French guy working for TSR.

    A little more than ten years ago now, when I was recruited as curator in the Comics museum in Angouleme, I quoted the “Chroniques” among the comics I liked, and this was a point of debate with Thierry Groensteen, who was then director of the museum and still the best French-speaking specialist of comics. I didn’t stay in the job for a very long time, but this debate came many times among us. That’s one of the reasons I choose to invite François Marvella-Froideval to a symposium on comics in the Modern art museum of Lyon. That was the only time I met him, but I was very happy and impressed.

    So, you understand, in addition to the pleasure I had to see you quoted Epées & Sorcellerie, your anecdote reminds me a lot of things about my own cursus as a role-player.

  7. As a sometimes dabbler in the Japanese language and a big fan of the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh Basic/Expert edition, I would love to have the Japanese version of that edition.

    I think I’d enjoy a Spanish version too, but I think Mentzer’s was the first Spanish edition.

    I wonder if there were Japanese editions of classic Traveller.

  8. I wonder if there were Japanese editions of classic Traveller.

    There was and I actually went out to dinner with two of the translators -- and Marc Miller! -- at the last Origins in Baltimore (1990, I think).